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A Matter of Life and Death Compositional Elements Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Aug 14th, 2021

Introduction

Through the usage of color scheme, props, and the setting of the last mise en scene, A Matter of Life and Death facilitated the propagandist message of Anglo-American understanding within the pursuit of individual happiness.

Color scheme

The first compositional element significant to the interpretation of the overall artistic design of the movie is the color scheme. Strongly appealing visually, A Matter of Life and Death uses the pattern of contrasting colors to convey the metaphorical meaning of the setting, location, and props utilized. While the scenes set in heaven are in black and white, the actions captured on Earth are portrayed in color. On the one hand, vital, saturated colors with high texture symbolize the proximity of life on Earth to the viewers. The Technicolor created by Powell and Pressburger is so vivid that one can sense it through touch. On the other hand, the luminous palette of the afterworld, balanced by harmonic tones, serves as a visual cue for the spectators. On a deeper level, it suggests that the afterworld of WWII, though tempting, does not have acceptable living conditions for those failing to accept the cooperation between the US and Great Britain.

Apart from providing visual cues for the viewer, the color scheme also lays a foundation for the discussions regarding the psychological condition of the main character. After returning from the war, Peter takes June on a picnic in a lush garden, colored in artificially bright, almost tropical colors. Delightful for the eye, yet disorienting, the color scheme enhances the mysticism of the film, questioning the underlying consequences of military trauma within the pursuit of individual happiness afterward.

The staircase

Another meaningful compositional element used in the film is props, in particular, the staircase. The staircase, with its direct allusion to the motif of Jacob’s ladder in the Bible and The Pilgrim’s Progress, is one of the film’s many literary references. (John Bunyan himself puts in an appearance when Dr. Reeves arrives in heaven to defend Peter.) Peter Carter is a poet, and Reeves sees the world as a poet, at least according to June. Reeves, the bearded magus, is the most obvious link to The Tempest. Like Prospero, he is a sort of director, preparing the stage for magical or miraculous events, in the end abjuring his specialist knowledge so that the lovers may thrive in the last scene. When Reeves first meets Peter, it’s in a stately home requisitioned by the US Army, and the troops are rehearsing a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream – many key moments in the film unfold in something like Shakespeare’s magical green world, with the principals framed or shadowed by flowers or ferns.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "A Matter of Life and Death Compositional Elements." August 14, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/a-matter-of-life-and-death-compositional-elements/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'A Matter of Life and Death Compositional Elements'. 14 August.

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